Liberia: Firestone Redundancy Likely to Drop Hundreds of Students from School; Child Advocacy Group Expresses Concern
Harbel, Firestone – As Firestone Liberia commences its redundancy plan, a child rights advocacy group, Kids Development Initiative (KDI) has expressed concern over the fate of hundreds of children it says will be affected if the company lays off over 800 of its workforce.
Report By Gerald C. Koinyeneh – 00231880881540 / 00231777769531 / [email protected]
Firestone Liberia announced in March that it will be laying off 13 percent of its workforce, which is around 800 Liberian employees.
The company says this is due to the continued and unsustainable losses resulting from high overhead costs associated with the company’s concession agreement with the government of Liberia, low natural rubber production because of the country’s prolonged civil wars and continued low global natural rubber prices.
Unofficial reports, so far indicate that the company has begun implementing its plan with about 300 workers being laid off so far.
Speaking to FrontPage Africa Sunday, April 21, the Founder and Executive Director of KDI, Saykwayee Harmony Henry noted that the exercise will not only affect the workes but hundreds of children who are benefitting from the company’s schools and hospitals.
“We believe that when these workers are downsized, their kids will also have to leave all of the facilities of Firestone including the education and health facilities. This is a very sad moment for us all as children and as Liberians,” lamented Ms. Henry.
KDI is a non-governmental organization based in Harbel, Margibi County that has been in the vanguard of helping vulnerable young children between ages seven and 15 to acquire requisite leadership skills and knowledge to be productive citizens.
Henry indicated that the decision will also undermine the organization’s effort as some of these children whose parents will not be able to send them to school may end up in the streets. She called on the Government of Liberia and Firestone to go back on the renegotiating table and come up with an amicable solution instead of the redundancy.
“Some of these students who parents will not have the financial strength to send them to private institutions will be vulnerable in the streets and some of them will start to take in drugs and do prostitution.
“As an institution, we are against social bad habits. That’s why we are pleading with the government of Liberia to see how best they can collaborate with Firestone Liberia and come back on the table and redesign strategy instead of laying off all those 800 workers. It is a threat to our institution and it is not a good sign to the Republic of Liberia,” she averred.
FrontPage Africa contacted Firestone for comments on its lay-off exercise and the fate of students whose parents were laid off but the management could not comment up to press time.
The communication officer, Patrick Honnah promised to respond in due course.
Reason for Firestone Lay-off
In a brief statement issued in March, 2019, Firestone, an indirect subsidiary of Bridgestone Americas, Inc. said the decision was reached after a thorough and strategic review of its current operations coupled with unsustainable losses resulting from high overhead costs associated with the company’s Concession Agreement with the Government of Liberia, low natural rubber production because of the country’s prolonged civil wars and continued low global natural rubber prices.
Global rubber prices have fallen by more than 40 percent since January 2017 and are now only slightly above historic lows. Firestone most recently laid off over 400 workers in 2016, again crediting the decision to falling rubber prices.
The headcount reduction, the company noted in March would begin during the early quarter of 2019 and would take place throughout the company’s operations. It would include retirement, discontinuation of certain work contracts and redundancies.
“Firestone Liberia has been working closely with the Ministry of Labor and the Agricultural Agro-Processing and the Industrial Workers Union of Liberia (AAIWUL) to ensure that employees made redundant as part of this action will be done so in accordance with all applicable Liberian labor laws, company policies, and the company’s collective bargaining agreement with AAIWUL,” the statement noted.
However, the natural rubber company lamented that the measures reached alone will not be enough to restore Firestone Liberia to profitability; adding: “The company will continue to evaluate all aspects of its business to ensure long-term competitiveness and determine the best allocation of company resources to optimize our portfolio, processes and, culture.”
What has been the Government’s Response?
So far, the Government of Liberia has not taken any step to intervene since the company’s pronouncement.
The House of Representatives, in March 2019 summoned the Minister of Labor, Moses Kollie and the Management of Firestone to give a status report on the lay-off exercise of 13 percent of its workforce and to find the way forward.
Many had hoped that the appearance of the Minister of Labor and Firestone Management would have led to an amicable solution. That was not the case.
The meeting was held in executive session (behind closed doors) based on the request of the Ministry of Labor’s officials and the results were never made public.